Water Supply

(Lesson 7. Livestock Water Supply continued)

The water source needs to provide water of a high purity and yield a dependable sufficient volume throughout the grazing season. The water supply needs to be tested periodically for toxic chemicals and pathogens.  Animals can drink poorer quality water than humans up to a point, but perform better on high quality water.  The drinking water standard for nitrate-N is 100 parts per million (ppm) for livestock, while it is only 10 ppm for humans. Contact the Maine Division of Public Health Systems for information on water quality testing.

Nitrate level (ppm)
As NO3 As NO3-N Effect
0-100 0-23 None
101-500 23+ – 114 Reduced gains, more infertility
501-1000 114+ – 227 Gray-brown mucous membranes, shortness of breath, rapid breathing
Over 1000 Over 227 Signs of suffocation, uncoordination, staggering, death
ppm=mg/liter ; mg/liter x 0.454=mg/lb

Conversion from nitrate to nitrate nitrogen is to multiply by .23.

Generally, streams are not desirable for watering due the potential for livestock pollution of the stream. Ponds, streams, and springs should always have livestock excluded from them and be protected from incompatible land uses. Water can be pumped from ponds and streams using solar, petroleum or battery powered pumps. Hydro-rams, sling pumps, nose or pasture pumps, wind powered pumps, or gravity can also be used when the situation allows for it. Drilled wells are the preferred source because they supply a dependable supply of clean water under pressure. A large tank on running gear filled from a reliable source and towed to the site can also be used to fill tanks, but is more labor intensive. Each water supply system has its own advantages and disadvantages. See UMaine Extension Bulletin #7129, Watering Systems for Livestock by Jemison and Jones for an extensive discussion of the various watering systems.

Water Tanks

Water tanks or troughs should be easily accessible for the livestock. Ideally, water should be available within every paddock. Generally, water should be available within 300 to 500 feet of the pasture where animals are grazing. When watering facilities are available nearby, livestock tend to visit the water trough in small numbers and return to grazing once their thirst is quenched. If the animals have to travel long distances, getting a drink becomes a social function and they do so as a group and spend a long period of time congregating and socializing around the water tank. Time spent going to and from water is time taken away from grazing. Manure and urine is concentrated around the watering facility instead of being spread on grazing land. A central watering site serving many paddocks receives considerable abuse from animal traffic and manure buildup creating the potential for this area to turn into a compacted eroded area or a mud hole. However, if the pump source is solar or wind powered, then a large tank capable of holding a 2 or 3 days supply of water in a central watering site may be necessary. These two types of pumping systems are usually considered for bringing water to remote pastures.

The size of the tank depends on the distance to travel to water and the number of animals using it. Generally, one tank is needed for each 50 to 60 head. Under intensive grazing where water is provided in every paddock, a 50 gallon tank with a demand valve attached to a float to regulate water level will easily water 100 head of cattle. Likewise, a 30 gallon tank or tub will water 40 to 50 animals.

portable watering trough for livestockPortable waterers need not be fancy; 55 gallon drums cut in half and edges rounded will work. Tanks can be put on wheels or skids to ease movement. Lightweight plastic or fiberglass tanks or tubs are available in various sizes and work well.  Tanks need to be inspected frequently and cleaned of algae and debris. Tubs and tanks should be brushed and cleaned with a one part bleach : 20 parts water solution occasionally during the grazing season.  Animals should not be forced to drink dirty water.

Light weight tanks or tubs connected to the water supply by a durable rubber hose and a quick-disconnect coupling and outfitted with a full-flow water level control device can easily be moved between adjacent paddocks.  They can also be put in a different place in each paddock each grazing period to reduce trampling and manure concentrations in any one spot.

Click on the links below to finish Lesson 7: